Whistleblower's musings... Then some trivia. Write to me at ranjanyumnam@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Lessons from Michael Moore's America

Michael Moore is not only the finest American documentary maker, he is a man with a mission, and his mission is to pull the shroud off the lies and vapidities that mark the lives of Americans, especially in politics and economics. His latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, is shaping up to be a phenomenal trendsetter in the history of non-fiction filmmaking. Already, according to the New York Times, the anti-Bush "Fahrenheit 9/11" has become the highest-grossing documentary of all time on its first weekend in release, taking in $21.8 million as it packed theaters across the country this weekend. The film was released on 886 screens.

Michael Moore is a fiercely independent man, and his views about his country reflect that quality about him.

"They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet . . . in thrall to conniving, thieving smug [pieces of the human anatomy]," Moore intoned, referring to his fellow countrymen. "We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don't know about anything that's happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing."

Expaining America's motives behind cherrypicking the epicentres of world's evil, he said in Liverpool: "It's all part of the same ball of wax, right? The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton."

Soon after the 9/11 tragedy, he said: "We, the United States of America, are culpable in committing so many acts of terror and bloodshed that we had better get a clue about the culture of violence in which we have been active participants."

So if there is a message for us - the non-Americans, it is this: "Don't be like us, you've got to stand up, right? You've got to be brave."

Sure, that's music to ears to many of us in this uni-polar world.

In the Fahrenheit 9/11, he charged Bush administration of misleading the country to profit his oily cronies. It also "revealed" the links between Osma bin Laden's family and the Bushes, besides the lies about WMDs that never existed.

Two of the most damaging footages in Fahrenheit 9/11 are the ones hinting at frivolous and callous attitude, dumbness of George W Bush towards the events of 9/11. One clip shows Bush reading a rhyme to a classroom of elementary school children for seven precious mins, even as the news of the second plane reached him. Another video clip shows Bush at his laidback best: while speaking of hunting down terrorists, he got down to the real, golfing business. "Stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive".

Obviously, half of the Americans are not amused by the black sheep's revelations, and as as Slate's movie critic, David Edelstein says, the documentary "delighted me; it disgusted me. I celebrate it; I lament it."

It impresses me.

For despite what Moore says, I am all admiration for the American society. America may invent reasons to rain missiles on weaklings to achieve her nefarious ends, but the degree of freedom of expression and liberty that she guarantees to her own citizens is remarkable. USA is a monster, a bully to the rest of the world, yes, but she is the kindest protector and provider of rights for people within her borders. ( Abu Ghraib is meant for the outsiders only).

Can you imagine Michael Moore making similar unflattering documentaries to expose the murky and sleazy world of Indian politicians? Remember how Tehelka was hounded for years. Remember too how documentaries on Gujarat riots were censored by the Establishment. Can someone stand up and peek into the world of underground organisations with a camera without getting a chill up the spine and possibly paying with life?

There is something that our civil society can learn from America. The sooner the better. Hats off to Mike to bring that urgency in sharp relief.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Diary: In which I find I am 47% Indian

The tone and theme of my last few articles have been very trenchant to say the least. I have attacked people, accusing them of being unfaithful to their roots. I have blackened one entire nationality, and tried to prove that they are hypocrites and parasites of power. The recurrent theme of my outpourings was my insistence on maintaining an airtight Manipuri identity, or rather the mockery of Indianness in us, the Manipuris.

Earlier, I got some angry mails from readers, which I am reproducing below:

"I am shocked to read the aricle "Indians exposed by an indian".
This man who is calling himself whistleblower is not an indian
am sure....
I am a German. I came to INDIA 6 years back for an assignment
and what I found here was a great peace of mind and that's why
I am still here. He has given 5 of india's qualities
but can he name place where all this does not happen. I have
a personal experience being a foreigner and being in foreign
service. I have seen many counries of the world but only india
is the one where I found what I did not find anywhere. In these
6 years I have learnt a lot here. I have even learnt hindi. There
is one saying in hindi language "JIS THALI MAI KHANA USI MAI
CHHED KARNA" I'm sure you must have heard it and I dont feel
any need for explaining it. But this man that whist...... deserves
to be thrown in the dark sea. If I had the power I would have
burnt him alive and I mean it.
I have a requeat to make to the management of this site not
to give this kind of articles here."


"Dear Ranjan,

Just read your tirade on e-pao. Being a "mayang" married to a manipuri, I
know what you are talking about.

Maite [Maiteh ?]-s like you are the most Indian wanna-bees that I have seen.
Including a guy who calls himself Randeep [let me hold on to the last
name] - who has no idea that he has a "sardar" first name [he's all of 35
years young]. Plus, I have noticed that the Ranjan Yumnams of the world love
to be seen eating Indian food, love to admire, adore, adorn themselves like
the desi movie stars that they try to not be like :-)

Moreover, I dislike to hate Gandhi. When in 6th grade in Madras, I was
asked to bring my parents to reinstate me into school when I claimed
[correctly] that Gandhi would have lasted less than a minute under spanish
[rather than the gentlemen Brit] rule [the spanish took the Inca's gold and
then killed them.....].

Even in sports, the best defense is superlative offense. Just like the US
is the #1 superpower due to its overwhelming firepower, the Brits were [in
the days when the sun never set on the British empire] the superpower.
Gandhi had [I agree with you here] no choice except to embrace non-violence
[then Martin Luther King Jr. emulated him].

Oh yeah - Mr Varma could use a lesson in being more civilized - nothing like
a bloody nose to teach a person on how to be human.

Bottom-line: Desis [and you] are more like everyone else - than different.
The best defense is superlative offense, and Varma needs a bloody nose to
become more human."

From Bapcha S. Murty

"What ever you said on Thiyam is right if you are looking from ETHNOCENTRIC prism.We are in twenty first century, please,let us learn to look beyond meitei, manipur,our religion, our culture and all bla blas.

If you look closely,Thiyam is much ahead of our time.There is an element of humanity and internationalism in his theme. Let me cite an example from history,Tagore did not take major role in Indian freedom movement inspite of his towering personality.Because his idea of nationalism was much ahead of his time.(To know more read Tagore and Nationalism).And it is a theme which you are missing in your most of the literature , you have published.

Pliz, let's not dig up too deeply that nothing comes out of it."

From Michael Achom

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Where are Ratan Thiyam’s roots?

I have never seen a single play of Ratan Thiyam, but deep in my heart, I respect him as any Manipuri would (and should) with a sense of awe and veneration. He is a cultural icon, one of the truest sons of the soil. Never has a Manipuri reached such heights of excellence and fame in his chosen field - be it at national level or international stage. A chance visit to his webpage has further reinforced my estimation of him as a genius. The countless number of awards and prizes and other recognitions that his theatre has earned over nearly three decades is mind boggling and colossally impressive. It makes me wonder: well, will we ever see another Manipuri who will be even a tad close to his stature and talent in any specialised discipline. And at the risk of sounding morbidly immature, it is tempting to ask - after Mr. Thiyam, who will inherit his craft and conduct it forward as nearly professionally as this guru with extraordinary results.

Ratan Thiyam is one of the directors that came into limelight as a director of "theatre of roots", a movement pioneered by other giants of Indian theatre like B. V. Karanth, Habib Tanvir, Bansi Kaul, Vijay Tendulkar, etc. in the 70s. These directors exploited traditional folktales and contemporised them in their theatrical narrative and execution. To Mr. Thiyam especially, this genre must have presented an added incentive as it enabled him to connect to his roots, an opportunity that any Manipuri would have snatched in the land of the mayangs. Indeed, he became the poster boy of the theatre of roots, dwarfing all the earlier trailblazers.

But the question remains: does his theatre really represent his roots, and for that matter the Manipuri society, its ethos and culture? If you take a cursory look at his plays, the answer would be almost negative: finding an unalloyed true Manipuri influence in his theatre will be like looking for a needle in the haystack.

"Uttar-Priyadarshi," the jewel of his ouevre - that catapulted Mr. Thiyam to the galaxy of world's greatest directors - is as Manipuri (or unManipuri) as the samosa. Why is the title of most of his plays in Hindi? His latest offering is even named in Hindi words that seem like Greek to some of us - 'Ritusamharam'. Never mind the theme that, as far as he claims, is 'rooted' in typical Manipuri season of spring when the Nature opens forth her bounty. So far, so good. But then, call it his pandering to the Indian audience or hunger for more of thier patronage, he seems to have lost his Manipuri soul when he gratuitously made 'Holi-playing' the focusing point of the play. There is nothing wrong in portraying Holi, while ignoring yaoshang; after all he has the artistic license to do whatever he like - make his work overtly sub-continental or Manipuri. In this case, his choice was undeniably Indian in theme, with heavy dose of Hinduism element thrown in. Which is well within his rights, except for one problem that he made his name solely on the notion that he represented the "theatre of roots" movement. Will someone point out where does his roots lie actually - in Kurushetra or Manipur?

I may be blamed as xenophobic, nit-picking and even ungrateful, but let me assure you I have company, and they are not even Manipuri. At a screening of a documentary on Ratan Thiyam, "Some roots grow upwards," recently in New Delhi, a young filmmaker from the audience got up to ask the director of the documentary, Kavita Joshi, if Mr. Thiyam's works were aimed at projecting a "pan Indian Hinduism" consciousness. I was astounded, not least because those were the words which were on my tongue tips, but because an outsider could also notice that hallmark of Ratan Thiyam's theatre.

Ms. Kavita presently summoned her composure and said something to the effect that Ratan Thiyam was merely using known epics as a vehicle to promote his agenda of peace and harmony, and that it was a technique that directors of all hues and colours elsewhere resorted to. Later, in a telephonic interview, she defended Ratan Thiyam, saying he could not be faulted as his works "mirror the Manipuri society" that had many layers underneath. Clearly, she believed that all Manipuris were Hindus, and pointed out that only two members in the cast crew of Chorus Repertory Theatre had Meitei names, for instance.

When Mr. Thiyam is not drawing upon Hinduism's crutches, he borrows from some other religions alien to Manipuris. After seeing his Uttar-priyadarshi at Washington, Tehreema Mitha, an Indian crtic, felt that "it presents a very Buddhist attitude towards violence," and that spawned a "confusion, since India is perceived as basically Hindu".

Mr. Ratan Thiyam should do a soul searching and change the direction of his works to make it more representative of the Manipuri society, her culture, her history, her folktales and her identity. Foisting Manipuri ideological theme on archetypal Hindu epics may earn him brownie points in the initial stage of his career - and we can understand it - but now he is 'big' enough to chart his own course and create plays that is truly Manipuri from head to tails. Instead of trying to find strained (and strange) parallels with Manipur's social and political realities in some obscure Vedic traditions, he should look for gems in his own backyard. After straying away for more than two decades in wilderness in search of his roots, atop ivory's tower, Mr. Thiyam should return to his fertile soil that gave birth to him. If he must take a leaf from his great contemporary, Tadashi Suzuki, so be it, but come back home. The rewards would be more satisfying than any foreign recognition.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The judge’s logic
I received a sms yesterday that had me in splits.
A judge fined Rs. 540 against a rapist for his crime. When asked why Rs. 540 – not 500, 600 or 1000 – the learned judge retorted: “Rs 500 for rape and the remaining amount as 8% Entertainment Tax”.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

June 18 Uprising: Manipur's Tiananmen Square bloodshed?

One of the advantages of having anniversaries, centenaries, and other periodical observations is that they arrive - without fail. Yesterday, MSAD led students to a candle vigil in Delhi, first at Jantar Mantar and at India Gate later, in rememberance of the 18 martyrs of the Great June Uprising and as affirmation of the collective will that the cause for which they sacrificed thier lives will be continued to its logical conclusion. Long live the martyrs.
In hindsight, the June 18 event was to Manipur what Tiananmen Square bloodshed was to China's democratic assertion of popular voice. The candle weilding students in the Capital might have just managed to hammer that message to the Indian observers.
And with this, observation of Manipur's most significant event in recent memory has just gone countrywide, a manisfestation indeed of the fact that youngsters living away from the state are more politically concious, zealous about thier roots and always prapared to raise thier ethnic flag aloft, whenever any opportunity presents itself. A positive trend, I will say.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Diary: Why I hate commuting + my solution
I commute daily by public transportation for at least two hours. It’s not a pleasant routine, what with Delhi’s bulging population (literally too) and busy traffic jostling for space and ease. Throw in the scorching heat of Delhi’s summer, and you have a pressure cooker on wheels. The only way to wriggle myself out of this hellish two hours is to buy a vehicle for myself or move my butt, bed and buddy to a place near my workplace. I am seriously considering the second option; it suits me more at this point of time. Have you heard of the phrase “financially challenged”. That’s me.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Amnesty International anti-semitic?
One of the hazards of being a global watchdog on human rights violations is that it is prone to criticisms from different quarters who believe their case have not been adequately addressed. And that includes people like me who last week cast aspersions on the moral authority and authentity of the India report that I "thought" was too lenient on NE. One reader of this blog has even a more blighted view of the organisation, which I think is unfair. He wrote:

"If you are pro-Amnesty Intl., you are anti-semitic. Why is it that the
hoilier-than-thou Amnesty Intl. have *nothing* to say when Daniel Pearl was massacred in Pakistan, and when Nick Berg's head was chopped off in Iraq ? Is it because both were
Jewish and a bastard from the religion of peace chopped their head off ?
I would like to pee on and puke on amnesty and its supporters. Also, where
is Amnesty as China massacres thousands every year for their political beliefs ? Amnesty takes on "nice" targets like the United States - where they can use the friendly legal
system and a left-wing press to further their goals. They do not take on the real offenders like Sadddam [before the US liberation]; China [now] and the Osamas of the world.

Shame on Amnesty. and shame on the Indian liberals who quote Amnesty."

Taking his views at the face value - even though I have never met a jew in my life - I probed deeper into his accusations and found solace in the fact that he might have just gone overboard and off the mark. These are what I found:
1. AI was equally worked up like anybody else on the crudeness of the murder of Daniel Pearl and issued a statement.
2. China is one of the major countries under the spotlight of AI. Here's a report.

As for being liberal, I would choose liberalism any day over right wing fanaticism.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

There is a narcissist dwelling inside everyone who wants to be a cut above the rest. He craves to be appreciated, admired and if his ego is not fed, he feels unwanted, frustrated and worthless. That's why people go to expensive restaurants even if the food served there are as good (or horrible) as the homemade food of your mom or wife; that's why people waste a fortune on their marriage ceremony; that's why you splurge on that cellphone accessory that you can do without; that's why people upgrade thier cars everytime new models hit the road and so on. All these seem pointless. If you consider a human being's basic needs, they are very limited. For a man to live decently, he requires only 3 things: shelter, food, clothes; maybe in the modern days, you might add a vehicle, a phone and a computer.

Nope, I haven't forgot to tell you how important are one's physical looks to his sense of pride, and to some people that is the most crucial aspect of thier existence. An appearace freak can go to any length to look chic and sexy -- buy pricey designer clothes, get a tattoo done on the most happening part of her anatomy, dye her hair blue, expose her cleavage, pierce her navel, go for liposuction to lose weight, and what not. The latest trend on the beauty block is cosmetic surgery, and if you thought breast implant was the only miracle, think again. Name your problem part, there's just a perfect solution to bring it to glory and admiration, to kill your peers with envy.

But after you have gone the whole hog to acquire that killer look, how will you know that you are hot in the eyes of the people, preferably those belonging to opposite sex. No problem, no worries. Just visit this site www.hotornot.com, upload your most seductive photograph and wait.......Bingo, you will be rated by the world on a scale of 10 depending on how hot you look! This is a win-win thing; you don't have to meet the actual people (which can be quite embarassing) and you can obtain a few more brownie points by manipulating your pic (if you are really desperate to get a higher rating). But if you still get a lowly 2 point, just blame your photograph and take heart. Remember how beautiful you are as a person in flesh and blood. If not hot, you can still be a cool dude. All the best.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

BEING INDIAN: a review
By Pavan K Varma
Price: Rs 325
Pages: 238

Being Indian is a hard-hitting book that asks some mind boggling questions and seeks to answer them with a matching candour. The author, Pavan K. Varma, a distinguished career diplomat, shocks us with his unorthodox analysis of the traits of Indians—their psychology, aspirations, motivations—and have us awed with the sheer sharpness of his observations.

The author demolishes the stereotypes about being an Indian, convincingly and rationally with recourse to anecdotes, facts, citations and his wide experience in the corridors of power.

Are Indians democratic by temperament; are they non-violent; are they spiritual, ‘other worldly’; are they secular and tolerant? It is tempting to answer “Yes”. Mr. Varma, backed by his illuminating reasoning, says “No” to all these posers; and after considering his arguments you will also invariably find yourself agreeing with him.

Sample this argument: Can a people who are cannily attuned to the validity of social hierarchy and status be considered democratic by temperament? Doubtful. Democracy in India has survived and even flourished because it was quickly seen by the masses as the most effective way to upward mobility and for gaining personal wealth and power, not because they harbour any illusions about its ideals.

Mahatma Gandhi, whom the Indians reverentially call the Father of the Nation, won the freedom of the country by relying on ahimsa; so are all Indians peaceful and non-violent? Unlikely, if you consider the number of dowry deaths, torture of undertrials, physical abuse of domestic servants — all acts of bestiality perpetrated by the educated Indians.

Indians are not spiritual people either. How can a nation which calls a trader “mahajan” or great soul, which pervasively worships Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and exalts the pursuit of material well-being, artha, as a principal goal of life be regarded as ‘other worldly’? On the contrary, Indians pursue profit more tenaciously than most.

In the same vein, Indians are no paragon of tolerance. The Hindus are the practitioners of the world’s most rigid system of exclusion in the form of caste system and untouchability against their own members.

To be fair to Mr. Varma, any generalization about India and Indians is bound to be not completely accurate. For such a large country like India with its diversity, she presents a puzzle that can only be solved in grays, not black and white.

But one thing is crystal clear: Indians are power hungry people, and will resort to any means, ethical or not, to attain it. The Indians are extraordinarily sensitive to the calculus of power. They consider the pursuit of power a legitimate end in itself, and display great astuteness in adjusting to, and discovering the focus of power. “Those who renounce the lure of power are worshipped, not because their example is capable of emulation, but in sheer awe of their ability to transcend the irresistible,” says Mr. Varma.

However, two factors will change the mindset of the Indians in the coming years: pan indianness and erosion of the social hierarchies due to democratic process. These changes in tandem with her leadership in IT will bring about a veritable revolution in her social landscape and give her a stake in the global power play. Considering that Indians have a panache for hope and the quality of resilience in the face of adversity, they may well pull their dreams off.

Being Indian reads like a thriller though it is not one. Many myths about Indians keep tumbling out from every page that will hook you till the last sentence. Highly recommended for the foreigners, and also the Indians who want to know about themselves. Honestly.